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Football: Byron bounces Z-M in season opener

Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Jacob Tschann (25) tries to shrug off a tackle from Byron's Nick Laning during Thursday's non-conference game at Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School. The Cougars were held to 22 yards rushing in a 41-13 loss. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)1 / 3
Zumbrota-Mazeppa's Ellis Hirman looks upfield after coming up with a catch during the first half of Thursday's game against Byron in Zumbrota. Hirman finished with five catches for 65 yards. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)2 / 3
Zumbrota-Mazeppa quarterback Kurt Gadient sets up in the pocket for a pass during the first quarter of Thursday's game against Byron. Gadient was 10-for-16 for 146 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the loss. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)3 / 3

ZUMBROTA – With little experience and a small roster, Zumbrota-Mazeppa knew they needed a near-perfect effort to keep up with Byron.

Things looked good when the Cougars opened with a 15-yard run. But on the next play, the Bears intercepted a Kurt Gadient pass, and Byron was able to roll from there.

Going up 27-0 at halftime, the Bears cruised to a 41-13 victory at Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School.

At the end of Thursday’s blowout, Cougars’ head coach Willie Rauen admitted the lack of experience was a deciding factor in the defeat.

“The kids saw the plays but were unsure of themselves; if you hesitate, bad things are going to happen,” Rauen said. “The kids kept playing the whole game, hung in there and played much better in the second half. We knew we were going to have to play a very good game to stay with Byron.”

After the pick from Dan Fujan, the Bears struck quickly with a 49-yard reception from Joe Smith on a pass from Jonny Mracek. On the next play, Mracek connected with Michael Carl for a 17-yard touchdown pass.

Fujan punched in a 2-yard run for a score late in the first quarter, and Mracek and Carl connected for a 47-yard touchdown pass with 8 minutes, 1 second in the first half.

Z-M managed to move the ball around in the passing game, but the Cougars were forced to punt on four of their possessions in the first half.

Mracek used his legs to put Byron up 27-0 before halftime with a 1-yard touchdown run on a quarterback sneak.

Kip Knutson kept the big plays up for the Bears in the second half, ripping off a 42-yard run for a score.

“They kind of wore us down,” Rauen said. “They’re much bigger up front and controlled both lines of scrimmage.”

With 3:26 left in the third quarter, the Cougars finally got on the board with a 22-yard touchdown toss from Gadient to Hunter Prodzinski.

“When (Gadient) is given time, he can be very good,” Rauen said. “We just have to keep him upright.”

Gadient was 10-for-16 for 146 yards, and Prodzinski had four catches for 82 yards. Ellis Hirman grabbed five passes for 65 yards in the loss.

As time winded down in the fourth quarter, Byron put up its final score with a 28-yard rushing touchdown from Ryan Thompson. The Bears rushed for 240 yards, with Fujan rushing for 82 yards on 11 carries and Mracek tallying four carries for 70 yards.

Landon Rauen added a garbage-time touchdown for Z-M, crossing the goal line with a 3-yard run for a score.

Mracek finished 7 of 11 passing for 215 yards, and Carl racked up five catches for 194 yards and a pair of scores.

Z-M (0-1) stays home on Sept. 6 for its first Southern Football Alliance White division game against Kenyon-Wanamingo.

Joe Brown

Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.

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